Sporting v Pacos de Ferreira
After an enticing double-header, Thursday’s action will see Gil Vicente host Santa Clara, Estoril Praia host Boavista, and Sporting host Paços de Ferreira. It has been a shaky start to the season for Sporting, who narrowly missed out on a spot in the Champions League knockout round despite winning their first two matches, and who currently sit fourth in the table, 12 points behind crosstown rivals Benfica. Compared to Paços de Ferreira, however, Sporting look like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
The Beavers are mired at the bottom of the table with just two points – nine away from automatic safety – and a goal differential of -19. Having lost 4-2 to third-tier Vitória de Setúbal on October 16, Paços sacked manager César Peixoto and hired club legend José Mota, but their fortunes failed to improve: after losing 2-1 to Famalicão in his return, Paços would lose to Marítimo (their sole win of the season), Porto and Vizela, before drawing to Casa Pia and second-tier Trofense in the Taça da Liga. A 2-0 defeat to Braga on December 11 would see them eliminated from the cup, with Mota being dismissed shortly after. Their next match will see them travel to the Estádio José Alvalade with an interim manager and take on a Sporting team in red-hot form.
Since suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt and being relegated to Europa League football, Sporting have won their next six matches by a combined scoreline of 23 to 1. Their most recent fixture would see them go up 2-0 within 7 minutes and enter halftime with a 5-0 margin, with the Lions breezing past Braga and setting up a date with Arouca in the Taça da Liga semifinals.
I’m expecting another lopsided victory for Sporting in a match that will likely see Dário Essugo start in midfield due to Manuel Ugarte’s suspension and Hidemasa Morita and Sotiris Alexandropoulos’s injury-related absences. At 17 years old, Essugo has become the youngest player to debut for Sporting, the youngest Portuguese player to play in the Champions League, and the youngest player to start for Sporting. Having renewed his contract until 2025 on Friday, he’ll be looking to cap off a successful year with a rare starting appearance in midfield for Rúben Amorim’s side.
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